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The Indian Head cent, also known as an Indian Head penny, was a one-cent coin ($0.01) produced by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1859 to 1909. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.
From 1793 to 1857, the cent was a copper coin about the size of a half dollar. As rising copper prices made it impractical to keep striking them, in 1857 the Mint reduced the size of the cent, issuing a new design, the Flying Eagle cent. The new pieces were identical in diameter to modern cents, though somewhat thicker and made of copper-nickel. The design caused production difficulties, and the Mint soon looked to replace the coin. Mint Director James Ross Snowden selected the Indian Head design, and chose a laurel wreath for the reverse that was replaced in 1860 by an oak wreath with a shield. Cents were hoarded during the economic chaos of the American Civil War, when the metal nickel was in short supply. As Mint officials saw that privately issued bronze tokens were circulating, they induced Congress to pass the Coinage Act of 1864, authorizing a slimmer cent of bronze alloy.
In the postwar period, the cent became very popular and was struck in large numbers in most years. An exception was 1877, when a poor economy and little demand for cents created one of the rarest dates in the series. With the advent of coin-operated machines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, even more cents were produced, reaching 100 million for the first time in 1907. In 1909, the Indian Head cent was replaced by the
Production of the Indian Head cent for commerce began at the start of 1859. As issued for circulation, the pieces differ in some particulars from the pattern 1858 cent of similar design; Longacre sharpened some details. The pattern coin had the laurel leaves in the reverse wreath in bunches of five leaves; the issued 1859 cent has them in bunches of six. Cents dated 1858 with the adopted reverse (with six-leaf bunches) are known, were most likely struck in 1859, and are extremely rare.
In 1860, the reverse of the cent was changed to feature an oak wreath and a narrow shield; such reverses are also known on 1859-dated pieces struck as patterns. According to Richard Snow in his guide book to Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents, this was not due to problems with the "Laurel Wreath" reverse design used in 1859, as full details survive on many extant pieces. Walter Breen, however, suggested that the feathers and curls on the obverse did not strike as well as they would later, and that "this may account for Snowden's decision to change the design again". David Lange, in his history of the Mint, states that it was to give the coin, quoting Snowden, "more National character". All 1859 cents and some from 1860 have the cutoff of
Tens of millions of Flying Eagle cents had been issued in exchange for the old American coppers and small Spanish silver. The Spanish silver was still flowing into the Mint in early 1859 and, at Snowden's urging, Congress on March 3 of that year extended the redemption of these foreign coins, legal tender in the
Shortage and redesign (1862–1864)
The surplus of cents was relieved by the economic chaos engendered by the American Civil War, which began in 1861. At the end of that year, the banks stopped paying out gold, which thereafter commanded a premium over paper money. These greenbacks, beginning in the following year, were issued in large quantities by the federal government. Silver vanished from commerce in June 1862, as the price of that metal rose, leaving the cent the sole federal coin that had not entirely vanished from commerce through hoarding. The glut of cents had by then abated, as merchants had stored them away in quantity—one
By 1863, The Bankers' Magazine reported that the premium for cents in